England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day July 20, 2014

Another battle, another defeat on Planet Al

Alastair Cook has got used to feeling of the axe hanging over him. Only his team-mates can save England now
32

At around about midday, Alastair Cook sprinted back towards the most famous pavilion in the game. His aim was to catch the skier offered by Stuart Binny from the bowling of Moeen Ali. The ball reached its apex and appeared to hang, as if it were an axe waiting to fall upon a head. Cook, surely aware of the many judgemental eyes upon him, made some ground in this time and was able to steady himself a little. If there was panic in his eyes, it was not evident for they were hidden by the wrap-around shades that allow him to occupy Planet Al without intrusion.

Still moving at pace, his head held a steady position and his hands opened to receive the ball. The timing was perfect. The ball nestled soft and safe. The members rose to acclaim the leader. Joe Root arrived for a hug - Joe rarely misses out on a hug. Their boyish smiles were of relief. Wickets were falling. England might win.

An hour later Al had the field spread. He was praying for another catch, somewhere, anywhere. Strange things happen in the big city. Ravindra Jadeja had morphed into Adam Gilchrist. The England captain was going through what every international captain went through between 1999 and 2008, the near ten-year period during which the Gilchrist counterattack brought global terror. Only Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan mastered the finest No. 7 of them all and then it was brief, that summer of 2005, when Fred swung the ball at the speed of light from around the wicket and Gilly was flummoxed.

Honestly, Jadeja played a mesmerising hand. The game had missed some magic, Jadeja had us in raptures. He smashed his mortal enemy - James Anderson, but you knew that - back over his bonce a few times. With audacity and outrage he drove and pulled and flicked and cut and squirted. He danced down and hung back. He used his bat as if it were the sword of Zorro.

And Al spread. This time it was hard to blame him. This last year alone, the last three wickets on the opposing scorecard have cost England close to a 100 runs on average. Ouch.

With another delightful contribution from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India added 99 for the eighth wicket at a run a ball. Ouch. Planet Al was ready to bat but he had other things to occupy his mind. The game is slipping away for goodness sake, how do we get these chaps out? And then he got a break. Jadeja pulled at a ball a little full and it flew high over his head and towards the pavilion. Guess who was chasing?

The wicketkeeper was chasing too but Al willed him away. Hearts were in mouths. Again the ball hung, again the axe...

And again the ball landed safe and soft. Two stinkers, both beautifully taken. Hooray for Ally, England and St George.

Soon the shades were off and the helmet was on. It was 3.15 in the afternoon and England needed 319 to win. The captain had to fly that flag. "Unto the breach, dear friends" and bang, a square cut for four to settle the nerves. In his pomp of 18 months ago, Cook would feast on such challenges. He loves to deny and defy. His stubbornness has worked best in the face of unlikely odds and these were the unlikeliest odds. Only once had such a score been made to win a Test at Lord's and that by Gordon Greenidge and West Indies on a belting pitch 30 years ago.

The India seamers did not make the short-wide ball mistake again. They pitched nice and full and a tad off stump and Cook left well alone. "I will not be tempted, I will not be tricked." He made it to tea though had the agony, the ignominy, he might say, of standing alongside the umpire as a finger was raised against Sam Robson. Leg before wicket? Hardly, ump. Cook must have been spitting. We saw the replays. Hawk-Eye quite liked it. A cruel decision, ump, but not a wrong one after all. Ask Hawk-Eye, the god of all things.

The spinner came on. Guess who? Jadeja, of course, and he bowled some exploding bombs. Cook was hit on the gloves, the hip, the arm, the pad, the thigh pad. Occasionally the bat became involved and singles and twos started to build a tally. A long reach brought safer forward blocks. While the spin was smothered, the hope could be heard in the urgency of the Lord's murmur. Perhaps, perhaps...

Then the England captain played the shot of the knock. From a back-of-a-length off-stump ball by Bhuvneshwar, Cook stood tall and with a perfectly straight bat punched it past mid-off for four. Bravo! This was 4.15pm. Nerves were settling. More ones and two were scored. Edges did their bit. The spinners were seen off. MS Dhoni switched his men around. Fielders in funny places. Bowlers doing funny things. He brought Ishant Sharma back. Ishant switched to around the wicket, Fred's great angle in 2005.

Ishant bowled a gem. A ball so perfect that Cook was drawn to it, a moth to the flame. Length, line, both spot on. Cook's defence was imperfect. He has a flaw in his technique. It is less a loss of form than the ruthless exposure of a flaw. The ball found the edge of the bat and this time, instead of flying out of harm's way, it flew into the Dhoni gloves. Mr Dhoni does not miss the ones that matter. Cook watched its flight in despair. His head dropped. The moment seemed to last forever. India were triumphant but Cook was rooted to the spot. The crowd could not be sure, not until he began the long walk home.

Oh, captain, the long walk home. Back towards those members he went, forlorn. Earlier, twice, they had applauded the excellence of his work. This time there was a ripple but it was more in sympathy and respect for a decent man beaten by the ravages of an unforgiving game.

The blood had drained from his face. The pain was clear and present. Even the callous could not help but feel for him. Admirably, Cook gives this world all that he has. The fates have turned against him for now. This particular fight was over. The battle now belongs to others. Only they can save England's face.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on July 22, 2014, 23:04 GMT

    @Nicholas Ryan: I think @Srikumar Narayan meant Sam Robson, although he might have been alluding to Stuart Broad and came up with Benson!

  • lancs-lion on July 22, 2014, 9:00 GMT

    A lot of the blame must fall on the "behind the scenes" management. England have some of the best players in the world but when the bowlers are all over the place in terms of knowing the best length and the top order batsmen are getting out the same way every time, then bring in better bowling and batting coaches. Yes, Matt Prior WAS the world's best wicket keeper / batsman....past tense. I would rather put my money on Jos Buttler getting you out of a hole nowadays and he is a potential match winner, as he has shown in the one day forum. Morgan has also shown he has more nouce as a captain when given a chance. So, let's not wait until the end of another lost series...going to test matches is expensive and I didn't go to Lords today as I knew if it got down to Prior, Stokes, Broad etc then we were going to lose. I also have to say that Mark's interview with Cook on channel 5 was very revealing. I would like to see someone within the management asking similar questions.

  • undercut on July 22, 2014, 4:50 GMT

    Deepanjan Datta points out Gilchrist's lean run with the bat. There is a huge difference; Gilly was a No.7 quality keeper, whereas Cook is an opener who is a poor captain.

  • on July 21, 2014, 22:07 GMT

    July 21 : 15.00 GMT .... 'Who is BENSON?'

  • on July 21, 2014, 21:39 GMT

    Being from India, can't say I'm unused to hyperbole and cricketing vicissitudes of opinions about a player. But the near obituary-esque tone seems a bit much for a batsman who has achieved much and much young. That 8000 runs+ record wasn't built without lean patches, admittedly not as long as this one. He braved through the 2006 Ashes whitewash too. Besides, his technique has never been flawless but at his best, he has found his way around it. And lest we forget, barring injuries or drastic loss of skill, Cook does remain the best shot to scale the 16000+ given his age and number of test matches England play. Oh and a minor stat: 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, DNB, 29, 43, 14, 6, 4 - Adam Gilchrist's scores against India from Kolkata 2001 to Sydney 2003 (six test matches). I think 2003 comes before 2005 and batting average of 9.8 is about a quarter of 36.2 (Ashes'05 when he was combating speed of light). Just saying!

  • lancs-lion on July 21, 2014, 19:48 GMT

    A lot of the blame must fall on the "behind the scenes" management. England have some of the best players in the world but when the bowlers are all over the place in terms of knowing the best length and the top order batsmen are getting out the same way every time, then bring in better bowling and batting coaches. Yes, Matt Prior WAS the world's best wicketkeeper / batsman....past tense. I would rather put my money on Jos Buttler getting you out of a hole nowadays and he is a potential match winner, as he has shown in the one day forum. Morgan has also shown he has more nouce as a captain when given a chance. So, let's not wait until the end of another lost series...going to test matches is expensive and I didn't go to Lords today as I knew if it got down to Prior, Stokes, Broad etc then we were going to lose. I also have to say that Mark's interview with Cook on channel 5 was very revealing. I would like to see someone within the management asking similar questions.

  • whirlaway on July 21, 2014, 18:46 GMT

    Even India is likely to make one change for the next Test (Ashwin for Binny). England should be making as many as 5 changes (Cook, Robson, Bell, Prior and Stokes). But I will be surprised if they replace even two of those five.

  • on July 21, 2014, 17:58 GMT

    And still he carries on...and England will carry on failing. With Cook as captain and Moores as coach India may possibly triumph 3-0 in this series. And India fully deserve to win it.

  • on July 21, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    Wonderful article....beautifully summarising Alastair Cook's woes!

  • cloudmess on July 21, 2014, 16:32 GMT

    Mark Nicholas, like everyone else, you are gunning for the wrong man. Peter Moores will still be in charge of the England team even if you sack Cook.

  • on July 22, 2014, 23:04 GMT

    @Nicholas Ryan: I think @Srikumar Narayan meant Sam Robson, although he might have been alluding to Stuart Broad and came up with Benson!

  • lancs-lion on July 22, 2014, 9:00 GMT

    A lot of the blame must fall on the "behind the scenes" management. England have some of the best players in the world but when the bowlers are all over the place in terms of knowing the best length and the top order batsmen are getting out the same way every time, then bring in better bowling and batting coaches. Yes, Matt Prior WAS the world's best wicket keeper / batsman....past tense. I would rather put my money on Jos Buttler getting you out of a hole nowadays and he is a potential match winner, as he has shown in the one day forum. Morgan has also shown he has more nouce as a captain when given a chance. So, let's not wait until the end of another lost series...going to test matches is expensive and I didn't go to Lords today as I knew if it got down to Prior, Stokes, Broad etc then we were going to lose. I also have to say that Mark's interview with Cook on channel 5 was very revealing. I would like to see someone within the management asking similar questions.

  • undercut on July 22, 2014, 4:50 GMT

    Deepanjan Datta points out Gilchrist's lean run with the bat. There is a huge difference; Gilly was a No.7 quality keeper, whereas Cook is an opener who is a poor captain.

  • on July 21, 2014, 22:07 GMT

    July 21 : 15.00 GMT .... 'Who is BENSON?'

  • on July 21, 2014, 21:39 GMT

    Being from India, can't say I'm unused to hyperbole and cricketing vicissitudes of opinions about a player. But the near obituary-esque tone seems a bit much for a batsman who has achieved much and much young. That 8000 runs+ record wasn't built without lean patches, admittedly not as long as this one. He braved through the 2006 Ashes whitewash too. Besides, his technique has never been flawless but at his best, he has found his way around it. And lest we forget, barring injuries or drastic loss of skill, Cook does remain the best shot to scale the 16000+ given his age and number of test matches England play. Oh and a minor stat: 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, DNB, 29, 43, 14, 6, 4 - Adam Gilchrist's scores against India from Kolkata 2001 to Sydney 2003 (six test matches). I think 2003 comes before 2005 and batting average of 9.8 is about a quarter of 36.2 (Ashes'05 when he was combating speed of light). Just saying!

  • lancs-lion on July 21, 2014, 19:48 GMT

    A lot of the blame must fall on the "behind the scenes" management. England have some of the best players in the world but when the bowlers are all over the place in terms of knowing the best length and the top order batsmen are getting out the same way every time, then bring in better bowling and batting coaches. Yes, Matt Prior WAS the world's best wicketkeeper / batsman....past tense. I would rather put my money on Jos Buttler getting you out of a hole nowadays and he is a potential match winner, as he has shown in the one day forum. Morgan has also shown he has more nouce as a captain when given a chance. So, let's not wait until the end of another lost series...going to test matches is expensive and I didn't go to Lords today as I knew if it got down to Prior, Stokes, Broad etc then we were going to lose. I also have to say that Mark's interview with Cook on channel 5 was very revealing. I would like to see someone within the management asking similar questions.

  • whirlaway on July 21, 2014, 18:46 GMT

    Even India is likely to make one change for the next Test (Ashwin for Binny). England should be making as many as 5 changes (Cook, Robson, Bell, Prior and Stokes). But I will be surprised if they replace even two of those five.

  • on July 21, 2014, 17:58 GMT

    And still he carries on...and England will carry on failing. With Cook as captain and Moores as coach India may possibly triumph 3-0 in this series. And India fully deserve to win it.

  • on July 21, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    Wonderful article....beautifully summarising Alastair Cook's woes!

  • cloudmess on July 21, 2014, 16:32 GMT

    Mark Nicholas, like everyone else, you are gunning for the wrong man. Peter Moores will still be in charge of the England team even if you sack Cook.

  • on July 21, 2014, 15:00 GMT

    Four guys should come into the side. Bairstow as keeper cum batsman and Onions as a bowler. Plus Eion Morgan who can play a posible role. And Finn.. Three guys go out. Prior, Stokes, Benson, and Sorry to say Cook...

  • JohannK on July 21, 2014, 14:35 GMT

    Bring back Nick Compton. He was dropped after a run that included two hundreds - far better than Cook. Compton has plenty of fight. If it did not look that way in his final couple of tests, it might be because he knew leadership was not on his side. If he knows he is backed by leadership to succeed, he will win games like the one just ended.

  • on July 21, 2014, 10:24 GMT

    The ECB now need to take the captaincy away from COOK and allow him to concentrate on batting. Please don't give the leadership to Bell [Cook mark 11] but rather to Broad if Root is also still a boy.

    KP, Trott, and Swann are surely missed, and Cook's skills as a captain were protected by them. Unfortunately for Cook, he has been worked out [how can it take over 100 teats and 8000 runs for this to happen??????] he cant score off of the front foot, and if the ball is line and length, Cook gets a knick !

  • DaisonGarvasis on July 21, 2014, 9:17 GMT

    I remember KP saying that Cook was destined to be the greatest rungetter in the History of Test Cricket. That was when Cook was at 8000 runs and highest rungetter was at 16000. The reasoning was Cook was only 28 at that time and had a great first decade of cricket behind him. The key to it was his entire career until that point was seen as a purple patch without any form issue. That in itself was a warning that the lean patch was coming. I dont know how serious did Cook those comments at that time but immediately after that the LEAN PATCH surely arrived and as the purple patch was seemingly long, the lean one isnt over yet. The worry is would this long lean patch call curtains to his international career.

  • yorkshire-86 on July 21, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    KP and Carberry need to come back. Cook can go back to county cricket for a couple of years until Carberry retires. Bairstow to come back as captain. And get Onions back, he is the best bowler in the country.

  • on July 21, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    I have always believed that test cricket is always about the combination of talent and character. But there is one more factor, very important. Its the way one fights the bad patch and comes out of it. There have been many examples of talented cricketers who never came out of the bad matches/series like they were once. The ones who consistently fought and came out on top became Tendulkars, Dravids, Laras, Kallis and Pontings of Cricket.....

  • DaisonGarvasis on July 21, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Oh Mark, thats called "rubbing it in", isnt it? But then, if the would be "all conquering captain" is delivering such debacles, why wouldnt one rub it in, isnt it? Remember, the best player in the Team was "sacrificed" so that he could have peace of mind while leading the Team to great hights!!! Alas, that wasnt meant to be!!!!

  • on July 21, 2014, 8:21 GMT

    I've criticised his captaincy but I do feel for Cook at the moment and hope his batting skills gain the luck you always need..

  • ooper_cut on July 21, 2014, 7:47 GMT

    I feel sorry for Cook and the English fans. Every time he comes out to bat, there is a lot of expectation from his fans that this would be the innings that will turn his luck around. It is something like when Sachin was stuck on 99 hundreds and made quite a few 50s, 70s and 80s and every time we would think this is it for sure.

    ECB should save him, protect him and take away his captaincy and give him a small break and let him go play some 20 20 and enjoy his cricket for sometime.

  • sarangsrk on July 21, 2014, 7:25 GMT

    @OmSaravana..It was Ishant who got Cook out. Shami got ballance.

  • OmSaravana on July 21, 2014, 5:20 GMT

    Its not Ishant, its Shami. I am surprised noone noticed that. :-)

  • Sexysteven on July 21, 2014, 4:21 GMT

    It's simple with Cook take the captaincy off him he's no captain give him afew days off away from cricket to clear his head before the next test starts then hope with all that stress gone he finds his form again I've got no doubt his form will come back eventually he's to good for it not to but taking the captaincy away will be good for both him and England cos Cook scoring runs is far more important to England then cook captaining England in my view

  • JaranNirsi on July 21, 2014, 3:24 GMT

    Oops... my post should read "India is now far weaker" not "less weaker" sorry. Sri1ram: you may be right, and KP and Swanny may not make a difference to 'the devastation and similar desperation'.... but Lord's is not done yet, and this Indian side has, sadly, a well-documented history of bring unable to close out matches they should win with ease. Hopefully, ' this time is different.'

  • on July 21, 2014, 3:23 GMT

    Fantastic. Now they know how we felt when we got taken to the cleaners four love last time around.

  • on July 21, 2014, 3:16 GMT

    Two nice articles in a day...first on Jaddu and now on Al...good blogs. Bravo guys!

  • sri1ram on July 21, 2014, 1:16 GMT

    JaranNirsi, hmmmm. Please get KP and Swanny back in. I want to taste the devastation and similar desperation with England fielding its best team.

  • humdrum on July 21, 2014, 0:51 GMT

    Gadzooks,this brings back memories of the days when glorious exploits on feild were matched by poetry in print.Sadly,the exploits are missing but the poetry more than compensates for it.But nothing can take the place of comments from sir iron bottom and mike vaughan.

  • on July 20, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    Very nice. The problem is this isn't some bad luck story. Nor anything to do with 'fate'. It's actually quite difficult to have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Cook while he persits in refusing to acknowledge the fact that he has gotten things wrong as captain and claiming that all the criticism is terribly unfair. The ECB has put all its eggs in one basket and handed to a man that everyone outside the England dressing room can see is not up to the task. Until heads are removed from the sand they will continue to reap what they have sown.

  • liz1558 on July 20, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    All of the issues with Cook's leadership were clear last year. It was crystal clear where this was heading, even against New Zealand. I fear that this could be the end of him as a cricketer. Downton made a huge mistake in giving full public backing to Cook from the start. It was utterly naive. Cook should've been under instruction to sort out his differences with KP. If he can do it with Warne, then he can forgive and forget with KP as well. The failure of the new generation was predictable - it was all based on scapegoating KP and believing that the world would be ok without him. The worst thing is that the senior English chaps believed it, and failed to see all of 'Al's' shortcomings as a leader. shortcoimgs that are clear to everyone else. Madness and gross incompetence.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on July 20, 2014, 20:22 GMT

    Cook failed? I thought 20 odd was a really good score for him these days lol.

  • JaranNirsi on July 20, 2014, 19:34 GMT

    Lovely writing, and all who read will have hearts that melt for Cook. But life has a strange way of biting back from strange and unexpected quarters. If KP, England's top scorer and best bat during that bloodbath Down Under, was the culprit for a God alone knows what, why is England what it is now without him? The selectors alone know. And India know whom they have to thank. KP and Swanny would have made all the difference to this feckless side. Don't forget, India now is far less weaker, both in terms of experience and performance, than the one that lost 0-4 the last time they came around.

  • Temuzin on July 20, 2014, 19:25 GMT

    Vow the second poetic article in one day. The first was Sid Monga and now by Mark. Rxcellent writing. Is that Sir Jaddu effect on authors? one wonders

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  • Temuzin on July 20, 2014, 19:25 GMT

    Vow the second poetic article in one day. The first was Sid Monga and now by Mark. Rxcellent writing. Is that Sir Jaddu effect on authors? one wonders

  • JaranNirsi on July 20, 2014, 19:34 GMT

    Lovely writing, and all who read will have hearts that melt for Cook. But life has a strange way of biting back from strange and unexpected quarters. If KP, England's top scorer and best bat during that bloodbath Down Under, was the culprit for a God alone knows what, why is England what it is now without him? The selectors alone know. And India know whom they have to thank. KP and Swanny would have made all the difference to this feckless side. Don't forget, India now is far less weaker, both in terms of experience and performance, than the one that lost 0-4 the last time they came around.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on July 20, 2014, 20:22 GMT

    Cook failed? I thought 20 odd was a really good score for him these days lol.

  • liz1558 on July 20, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    All of the issues with Cook's leadership were clear last year. It was crystal clear where this was heading, even against New Zealand. I fear that this could be the end of him as a cricketer. Downton made a huge mistake in giving full public backing to Cook from the start. It was utterly naive. Cook should've been under instruction to sort out his differences with KP. If he can do it with Warne, then he can forgive and forget with KP as well. The failure of the new generation was predictable - it was all based on scapegoating KP and believing that the world would be ok without him. The worst thing is that the senior English chaps believed it, and failed to see all of 'Al's' shortcomings as a leader. shortcoimgs that are clear to everyone else. Madness and gross incompetence.

  • on July 20, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    Very nice. The problem is this isn't some bad luck story. Nor anything to do with 'fate'. It's actually quite difficult to have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Cook while he persits in refusing to acknowledge the fact that he has gotten things wrong as captain and claiming that all the criticism is terribly unfair. The ECB has put all its eggs in one basket and handed to a man that everyone outside the England dressing room can see is not up to the task. Until heads are removed from the sand they will continue to reap what they have sown.

  • humdrum on July 21, 2014, 0:51 GMT

    Gadzooks,this brings back memories of the days when glorious exploits on feild were matched by poetry in print.Sadly,the exploits are missing but the poetry more than compensates for it.But nothing can take the place of comments from sir iron bottom and mike vaughan.

  • sri1ram on July 21, 2014, 1:16 GMT

    JaranNirsi, hmmmm. Please get KP and Swanny back in. I want to taste the devastation and similar desperation with England fielding its best team.

  • on July 21, 2014, 3:16 GMT

    Two nice articles in a day...first on Jaddu and now on Al...good blogs. Bravo guys!

  • on July 21, 2014, 3:23 GMT

    Fantastic. Now they know how we felt when we got taken to the cleaners four love last time around.

  • JaranNirsi on July 21, 2014, 3:24 GMT

    Oops... my post should read "India is now far weaker" not "less weaker" sorry. Sri1ram: you may be right, and KP and Swanny may not make a difference to 'the devastation and similar desperation'.... but Lord's is not done yet, and this Indian side has, sadly, a well-documented history of bring unable to close out matches they should win with ease. Hopefully, ' this time is different.'